As a classroom teacher, I understand the importance of being a life long learner. Professionals in almost any field are expected to be life long learners too. Long after we finish our formal education professionals across the board are expected to seek out and take part in continuing education opportunities. Why? Because thought processes change and skill sets need updating. We learn that the old way of doing things isn’t always the best way. But how do we continue our education as horse owners? Although I consider it our responsibility to our horses to continue to grow and learn, it’s not always as easy as it is in our professional lives to seek out and take advantage of all of the opportunities available to us. In this post I’ll give you some tips on how to do just that.
Continuing Education for Horse Owners
As horse owners, we all want what’s best for our animals. Yet once we gain our basic education, it’s easy to become complacent and set in our established routines. So easy in fact that many of us, myself included, are still implementing horse care and management as well as training techniques that have long sense gone out of fashion to be replaced by newer and much improved models. Many of the processes we use in caring for and training our horses in our day to day lives are tried and true methods that have become established, for good reason, over centuries and have long since proven to be beneficial to our horses. These should not be replaced. Others however can and should be re-examined. For example, when is the last time you took a hard look at your horse’s de-worming schedule or vaccination routine or set aside the time to evaluate a familiar training technique that isn’t working well for a particular horse?
To be fair, our busy lives often place obstacles in our paths to keeping abreast of the latest advances. Providing the best possible care for our horses can sometimes use all of our available discretionary funds. In our careers it is relatively easy and for the most part inexpensive to take advantage of the various continuing education opportunities that aid us in keeping up apprised of the latest advances in technology or new and improved ways to manage everything from people to data but how can we do the same for our horses? Where and how can we fit it in? Below are eight low cost, effective methods to help you get started regardless of your desired area of improvement.
- Attend a horse show. Looking to advance your riding and training skills? Attending a horse show as a spectator can be free or may include a nominally priced ticket yet can pay huge dividends. While you watch from the rail, pay attention to the riders who are performing well. What are they doing with their horses and how are they doing it? In what ways are their horses performing differently from the others? What impresses you most about their riding and training abilities that you may be able to implement at home?
Once you have identified those riders that bear further investigation, take some time to go behind the scenes. Watch these riders warming up. Make notes about their tack and equipment, training methods, etc. to take home and refer back to later. If scheduling permits and there is some down time during the show locate where these riders are stabled. Complement their achievements and ask if they have a few moments for questions or if they would mind being contacted later. Most trainers are very open to an e-mail or telephone call once they are settled back home from the business of a horse show and welcome the opportunity to help whether you are a potential new client or not.
- Attend a horse fair or clinic. Ranging in length from a week-end up to a week, horse fairs offer a great opportunity to see firsthand and perhaps visit with face to face with a variety of clinicians all in one place all for the cost of a reasonably priced ticket. Topics addressed are often limited only by the organizer’s imagination and cover much more than just training. Noted authors, coaches, tack and equipment dealers, designers of show clothes, etc. abound in addition to the more standard fair of trainers in a wide variety of methods and disciplines. Whether you want to improve your barrel horse or your saddleseat horse or explore the latest offerings in the field of natural horsemanship you can usually find it at a horse fair.
- Enroll in a short course. The Cooperative Extension Service has long been known for bringing the research based knowledge and skills of its land grant universities to local communities. One tried and true method to do just that for horse owners is a short course. Often offered at the state, regional, or local level topics of interest to horse owners are usually covered during once weekly meetings over a period of several weeks. Speakers can include Extension Specialists and veterinarians covering subjects ranging from horse health, breeding, and management to forages, pasture and manure management, and nutrition.
For a nominal fee, participants in short courses can increase their skills base in addition to being afforded excellent networking opportunities and access to various take home materials provided throughout the course. Even if a short course is not currently being offered in your area, your local cooperative extension service can provide you with free to low-cost reading material or access to research based newsletters coving topics of interest to you.
- Take advantage of e-Learning. Don’t have time to leave the farm? Consider taking advantage of e-learning from the comfort of your home during the hours you set. A wide variety of offerings are available for the tech savvy learner at affordable fees.
Depending on your interests, eWorkshops are offered in a variety of topics ranging from horse behavior and training to anatomy and physiology at skill levels from beginning to advanced. E-Learning offers the distinct advantage of offering you the choice of how formal you would like your continuing education to be. Educational web sites, blogs, links to educational articles and how to riding and training videos are all available for the interested learner.
- Read a book or magazine. If you are more of a traditional learner and feel more at ease with a book or magazine in your hand, consider these for your continuing education. A single monthly magazine subscription to a top equine publication can cover a variety of topics all in one place at a cost that won’t break the bank. Articles can be read selectively, depending upon what you would like to learn more about, or cover to cover to increase your general knowledge base.
Books, while often more specific in nature, can be a great way to explore such topics as riding and training theories. Both books and magazines can become valuable additions to your equine themed library, carried to the barn for reference during training sessions, and read and re-read until you feel established with implementing the ideas within.
- Watch a DVD. Many of today’s top horse trainers offer how to DVDs that will fit most budgets. From starting a young horse, to correcting a specific problem, to training a new skill and everything in between the advantage to DVDs is that they can be watched from the comfort of your couch and reviewed as many times as necessary until you feel comfortable with the concepts.
Even if your interest is more along the lines of learning how to correctly apply a wrap or poultice, perhaps learning more about first aid, or maybe even clipping and grooming your horse for a show DVDs can be a good place to start. Available DVDs don’t just focus on the horse. They are also available for improving your riding technique.
- Participate in an adult day camp. In addition to the obvious benefits of spending time with like minded adults and your horse, adult camps are a fantastic way to pack a lot of education into a short period to time within the confines of a more focused learning environment. Typically offered over a time span of three to five days, camps often offer demonstrations, lectures, and clinics on subjects ranging from rider fitness to horse care and management, to riding instruction and can be discipline specific or more general in nature.
Some clinicians even offer video recordings of your rides or the entire camp which can be re-visited to help set new skills in your mind once you return home. Though participation in day camps can be slightly more expensive than other options participation can be well worth the cost. Auditing a day camp rather can participating with your horse can make this a more affordable option and with many of the same benefits.
- Form or join a club. If your interest is with a specific breed of horse or an exact discipline many breed or discipline organizations offer local or regional clubs where new members are welcome to join and participate in monthly meetings. Local saddle clubs, whose membership often covers a larger cross section of these, offer the same. These organizations frequently offer monthly educational meetings where equine professionals in specialty areas ranging from veterinarians and farriers to equine massage therapists and chiropractors come to speak. You may even be able to bring along your horse as part of the demonstration or clinic.
In many instances these groups also host shows from schooling to rated levels where you and your horse can gain valuable experiences. Even if you live in an area that doesn’t already offer a club considering organizing one of your own by networking, which offers its own advantages, with local horse owners to discover their interests and needs. Membership can be free or simply the cost of fees to a national breed registry or discipline organization.
Your continuing education instructors should always include your horse’s professional caregivers such as your veterinarian and farrier. They can continually be counted on to answer any questions you may have about improving your ability to properly care for your horse, especially if you are considering whether or not to make changes to the care you currently provide. Most will also happily help you to understand why they have chosen one course of action over another when dealing with the resolution of a particular problem. If you work with a trainer, the same can be said for any training issues you may encounter. However, you can and should endeavor to keep your education current by making an investment in the advancement of your knowledge and skills for the benefit of both you and your horse. Change can be a difficult but worthwhile process.
© Hope Ellis-Ashburn